Bringing the arts to Bayside: Mayo Street Arts aims to involve community in its mission

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PORTLAND — One year ago, a small group of ambitious artists, writers and musicians took over an old church building on Mayo Street to turn it into a neighborhood arts mecca.

While some may have questioned their decision to build artist studios and a performance space far from the Arts District and deep into the East Bayside neighborhood, Director Blainor McGough is proud of what the group has done with the space.

Mayo Street Arts boasts a modest performance space, lit in the morning by the sun creeping through colored glass windows. It will begin welcoming musicians on Jan. 8 for shows at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.

If the first performance is any indication, Mayo Street Arts performances will be nothing if not diverse. Saturday will feature a Shakuhachi, or traditional Japanese bamboo flute player, a Bollywood dance group, a West African drumming and dance group, a large drumming group called Taiko Maine Dojo and singer-songwriter Vince Nez.

But in addition to music performances and artist studios, Mayo Street Arts also is including the community in its mission.

“Part of our mission is to engage the neighborhood in the arts,” McGough said.

She applied for grants to start a free puppet workshop for East Bayside kids, ages 7 to 12, and has received $3,500 from the Maine Community Foundation and the Community Arts and Humanities fund of the Maine Arts Commission. The first workshop, which begins on Jan. 22, will focus on world and family folklore.

“A lot of these kids’ parents are immigrants, so with the new language and at their age, it’s a perfect time for them to write down their family folklore,” McGough said. “I think a lot of them will have really interesting folklore.”

McGough said the workshop will accept up to eight students and will meet for 10 weeks each Saturday, from 9 a.m. to noon. The kids will learn about folklore, puppets and story telling, then write their own puppet shows and create the puppets out of paper-mache and cloth.

“They’ll learn how to make, build and operate the puppets. We’ll have story time each week and then each kid will write a play,” she said.

On March 26, the kids will perform their puppet shows for an audience of parents, friends and community members.

McGough said when she started publicizing the upcoming events, she received calls from people who had old puppets they wanted to donate to Mayo Street to use in the workshops.

One woman, Camille Whitehead, donated a collection of puppets she played with as a child in the former Czechoslovakia. Another woman, Helen Blanchard, donated a set of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” marionettes she had carved herself.

“They need a bit of repair, but they’re really great,” McGough said.

McGough has designed and created her own puppets for the Shoestring Theater and for the Children’s Museum of Maine. A few of her puppets and marionettes, in addition to the recently donated puppets, will hopefully provide inspiration for the puppet students.

After the 10-week workshop is over and the puppet shows have been performed, the group’s puppets and stories will be displayed at Mayo Street Arts for anyone to come and see.

“We’ll be open during First Friday so people can see them,” McGough said.

Deadline for registering students for the workshop is Jan. 10. Call 615-3609 or go to mayostreetarts.org for information.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

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Mayo Street Arts Director Blainor McGough holds one of the three bears from a collection of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” marionettes donated by Portland resident Helen Blanchard, who hand-carved the puppets when she lived in Mississippi. At right, a group of Czechoslovakian puppets await some repair work and behind her, McGough’s own creation: a paper-mache puppet called Jack. The puppets are intended to provide inspiration for a group of East Bayside kids who will participate in a free puppet workshop at the end of January.

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